Western Kentucky beat Louisiana-Lafayette 75-72 on Thursday to clinch second place in the Sun Belt Conference and an automatic trip into the conference tournament’s semifinals. Comments from Ray Harper, O’Karo Akamune and George Fant.
Getting the No. 2 seed: “Just happy for them. Again, they would never quit. I thought tonight we were very good. I thought offensively we shared the basketball, we had very few turnovers until right there late in the basketball game.
“I thought it was a high-level game. There were a lot of NBA people in the arena tonight for a reason and Elfrid Payton, he’s the real deal. I thought we battled him. He actually made two 3s tonight. Thirty one and 13, that’s not a bad night’s work for your point guard. Good player.”
Easier route in the SBC this time: “I don’t know if it’s easier. It’s fewer games. I think it was important for this team.
“Again, we never talked about Alex Rostov, that we lost our starting center about four weeks ago. We never talked about that we lost Kevin Kaspar our backup point guard who was playing terrific.
“I don’t know that there are a lot of teams in this league that could have overcome that, I really don’t. If you take out the starting center and the backup point guard on a lot of teams in this league they would have struggled.
“But it would just seem like someone would always step up. For example, O’Karo tonight, he gets 10 and six in his senior night.
“I guess I thought this team – two games would be important, rather than three or four games in three or four days. Two games is very manageable for this group.”
Approach for Saturday: “We’re gonna try to win. now, that being said, are we going to rest some guys? We’re going to rest some guys that desperately need it, that fought through some injuries that if they probably weren’t as mentally tough as they are probably couldn’t have played tonight.
“I’d like to give Ben a look on Saturday to see what, in a game like that, a high-intensity game, can he buy us three or four minutes at the tournament. I’d like to give Nigel a shot, obviously it’s going home for him.
“We’re going to go in there and we’re going to compete and we’re going to try win the game, but we may look at some different combinations and we may not play a couple guys as many minutes as they’ve been playing.”
Shawn Long: “I thought they did a good job. I thought our guys did a good job of when to double him. When he got it on the block, we doubled him. A couple times we didn’t rotate inside guys, but when our rotations were good, it was terrific.
“The other kid I thought we did a great job on is Mbamalu. He’s been really scoring the basketball for them. He had 34 on Sunday and once again we put Caden on him and then put Caden on Payton.
“I thought everyone that played really made contributions and good team win.”
Beating Georgia State in New Orleans: “The thing they do is they don’t turn the basketball over, and they make free throws. That is the key to them. I think they’re second or third in the country in turnovers. They had a game recently I think where I saw they turned the ball over two times and was 24 of 25 from the free throw line.
“It would have to be a game like tonight where we did a great job of taking care of the basketball. We’re 24-for-33 from the line. We’re going to have to be 30-for-33 and share the basketball like we did tonight.
“They score the basketball as well as any team in the league. They have a lot of weapons. We wouldn’t see them until the finals, hopefully someone else can figure that out before we see them.”
Senior night win: “It meant a lot. I’m not an emotional person, but I kind of got emotional on the court and off the court watching my teammates playing. I’m just appreciative.”
No. 2 seed: “It feels real good, especially getting a rest for our bodies. It’s hard to play four games straight and give it your all. It had its toll on our body and having the rest will definitely help us out this time.”
Shawn Long: “Coming into the game I’ve been hearing a lot about him. He’s been killing it. I watched a lot of film and I just noticed a few things that I keyed in on and that was pretty much the main things. I knew I had to get physical and keep my head and keep doing the things I was doing tonight.”
The No. 2 seed: “Yeah, man, no more four games in four days. At least one thing’s eliminated.”
Georgia State: “Focus, we gotta stay focused. We can’t go in with the mindset that it’s sealed. It’s another game. I know all the guys remember that they came down here and murdered us. I’m sure everybody else has the same mindset as me that we want to go and return the favor.
“I think that we’re not going to have to worry about getting each other ready for it, we’re already ready for it.”